Health Benefits of Mushrooms
Mushrooms are a powerful superfood that humans have enjoyed likely since the dawn of humanity in Africa hundreds of thousands of years ago. In fact, chimpanzees and bonobos include mushrooms as part of their diet in the wild.
Interestingly, human cells are more closely related to fungi than any other kingdom of organisms, such as plants or bacteria. Some of the essential molecules in mushrooms have been in our diet for so long that our bodies now depend on them. They’re packed with fiber, protein, B vitamins, vitamin D, and potassium.
About half of all edible mushroom varieties are considered “functional foods,” which means they have more positive effects on our health than just providing basic nutrition. For example, researchers have found that certain molecules in mushrooms are powerful anti-tumor agents, aid your immune system, and can even lower the risk of breast cancer and other diseases.
Let’s take a look at the powerful effect mushrooms can have!
Mushrooms are Powerful Cancer Fighters
According to a study out of the University of Western Australia, the risk of developing breast cancer was reduced significantly when women ate a third of an ounce of fresh mushrooms a day. The study observed 2,000 women between the ages of 20 and 89, stating that mushrooms “possess anti-carcinogenic properties” and have the ability to “stimulate immune responsiveness.”
In fact, further research showed that extracts from certain mushrooms had a powerful ability to kill cancer cells in a test tube environment. Specifically, the researchers found:
“Most extracts derived from Omphalotus nidiformis, Cordyceps cranstounii and Cordyceps gunnii demonstrated significant cytotoxic activity toward a variety of cancer cell lines.”
While these three species are not common culinary mushrooms, they have been used in Chinese traditional medicine for quite some time. Plus, many common types of edible mushrooms contain many of the same compounds found in the three species listed above.
Mushrooms as Antioxidants and Immunity Boosters
Mushrooms have just as many antioxidants as any other fruits and veggies. Antioxidants protect cells from free-radicals, which promote cell regeneration, keeps your immune system healthy, and helps you live a longer, healthier life.
In one clinical study, participants who ate shiitake mushrooms daily for 4 weeks had a “significant increase in immunity parameters,” reporting higher levels of intestinal, sinus, and respiratory immune cells. The researchers note that not only do shiitake mushrooms increase your immune cell activity, but they also reduce the inflammation that normally coincides with an immune response:
“Regular L. edodes [shiitake mushroom] consumption resulted in improved immunity, as seen by improved cell proliferation and activation and increased sIgA [antibody] production. The changes observed in cytokine and serum CRP levels suggest that these improvements occurred under conditions that were less inflammatory than those that existed before consumption.”
Though more research is needed, there is powerful evidence that suggests mushrooms can be a natural and effective way to boost immune function and increase your overall health when used regularly.
If you’re looking to drop a few pounds, adding low-calorie mushrooms to your diet is a great way to do that. They contain two types of fiber – chitin and beta-glucans – which help to reduce your appetite and help you feel fuller faster. Mushrooms are also considered prebiotics, which means they’re the type of fiber that healthy gut bacteria love to eat.
In a 2013 study at the John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 73 obese adults were put on a diet that substituted mushrooms for red meat for one year. At the end of this trial, participants on the mushroom diet had lower levels of fat and energy stores, lost more pounds, reached a lower body mass index, had a lower waist circumference, and lost a higher percentage of overall body fat.
Besides the specific benefits listed above, mushrooms have also been observed to have many unique health benefits that need explored in greater detail. For instance, one meta-study on mushrooms and health suggests that mushrooms have cholesterol-reducing properties, antiviral capabilities, and can help modulate your blood sugar levels. Another meta-study shows that mushrooms have very, if any, side-effects and that some of their most promising health benefits are related to the reduction of cancer.